On Growing Up with Lesbian Parents
By Lara Lillibridge, Blogger, Book Author & Mom
Everyone always wants to know what it was like to grow up with lesbian parents. On the one hand, it probably wasn’t much different than growing up with heterosexual parents. We ate breakfast, went to school, did chores. 90% of the time we functioned like everyone else. But that little part that made us different made us different in a big way.
We moved to Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester, New York, in 1978. I was five years old. I already knew that I had to lie about my family to everyone at school, including teachers. By junior high my family had been outed, so I didn’t have to keep the secret anymore. I just had to manage not to cry in school when everyone called me Lara the Lezzie.
By high school, I was tired of explaining to my male friends that no, they really didn’t want to watch my parents have sex, and tired of explaining to my friends’ parents that no, I never thought that I might be a lesbian, just like my mother.
I would have benefitted from some public relations training, seeing as I was the neighborhood poster child for same-sex parenting. I knew my job was to show the world how loving my family was and how little it scarred me. I was supposed to show that children of same sex parents were happy and well adjusted. The only problem was that I was neither happy nor well-adjusted, but the main cause wasn’t my parents’ sexual orientation—it was my stepmother’s mental illness, and how my family dealt with it.
Mental illness affects people from all walks of life, and this, too, fell under the category of how my family was like heterosexual families. But the lack of rights for queer families made it incredibly hard to talk about.
When I was in my late-twenties, I joined my moms and brother in Key West, who were already living there. For the first time, I was able to talk about my moms without people getting all aflutter. I could talk about them as people, not just as lesbians. Acceptance released the weight I hadn’t even recognized that I still carried. Smiling came easier. That was a turning point for me. When I eventually left Key West and moved to Kansas, I no longer felt ashamed of my family. When people expressed shock, I just stared them down. I didn’t have to wear their discomfort.
Several people from high school have contacted me to say how positively it affected them to know my family growing up—to see my moms at school concerts and open houses. They say that we showed them how normal queer families are, and that they carried that with them into adulthood. I still don’t want to be a poster child, but I am aware that sometimes you are thrust into the role, whether you want to be or not. It wasn’t easy being raised by lesbians in the 70s and 80s, but maybe our experience will make it a little easier for the next generation.
Seeing as just about every person I have ever met says something along the lines of, “You should write a book about that,” Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home felt somewhat inevitable. I’m pleased that I can bring my family’s story to the world, even if we weren’t the perfect voice for the movement.
Now that I have written all about my childhood, I’m writing about the next phase in my life—parenting. I’m in final revisions of a humorous memoir tentatively titled, Mama, Mama, Only Mama! How I Survived Divorce with Two Kids in Diapers and Learned to Cook Along The Way. In the words of my beta-reader, “It’s like Chicken Soup for the Single Mom’s Soul, if the mom made chicken casserole that her kid refused to eat.”
Meant to entertain, I combined humorous stories from my six years as a single parent with life-hacked recipes, most of which can be accomplished with a microwave.
I’m also working on a series of children’s books called The Globetrotting Grandmas, which detail travel adventures by a pair of lesbian grandmothers, inspired by my own mothers’ cavorting about the globe.
Lara Lillibridge is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in creative nonfiction. Her book Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home comes out in April. She is currently writing a memoir of parenting her sons.
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